Greek Pastitsio recipe – this Greek pasta bake with cheese sauce closely resembles Lasagne and will be a hit with the entire family.
There are certain recipes that take me straight back to my childhood and this Greek Pastitsio – mince and pasta bake with cheese sauce, is just one of those dishes. Pastitsio, or pastichio (the spelling doesn’t translate so well) combines two family favourites – macaroni and cheese and pasta bolognese to form a sort of Greek lasagne. Basically it is pasta in a bolognese-type sauce topped with a simple Béchamel sauce and baked in the oven. It is a true family favourite that is a hit with absolutely everyone, grown ups and kids alike.
I remember loving Pastitsio as a kid growing up in Athens but I haven’t made it all that often for my own kids in the UK. I think I was a bit intimidated by it but in actual fact it is a simple recipe – easier than lasagne which it closely resembles and just as crowd-pleasing. You can use lamb or beef mince – I sort of go with whatever I have available and both are delicious with a few subtle differences in taste. Go with lamb mince for a sweeter flavour and lean beef if that’s your preference. I used macaroni here for the pasta but you could also use small penne or buccatini.
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Greek Pastitsio is a good make-ahead recipe when you are feeding a crowd. The elements can be prepared ahead and the dish can be assembled just before you need to bake it. Since the cheese sauce contains fresh eggs it is best added just before baking. You can experiment with what cheese to add in the sauce – I used strong vintage cheddar and grated Grana Padano but you could also add some crumbled feta cheese for an added nod to the Greek heritage. My kids like to add ketchup on top because their dad is Canadian and that’s how he eats his Mac n’Cheese and who I am I to argue?
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion peeled and finely diced
- 2 large garlic cloves grated or minced
- 500 g lean beef or lamb mince
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 bay leaf
- pinch cloves
- 175 ml | 6 fl oz white wine or vegetable stock
- 1 tsp white wine vinegar
- 400 g | 14oz chopped tomatoes in tomato sauce
- 5 tbsp tomato paste
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 400 g | 14oz macaroni or penne pasta
- <b>For the cheese sauce</b>
- 25 g | 1 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 2 tbsp plain all purpose flour
- 1 tsp mustard powder
- 300 ml | 10 fl oz whole milk
- 50 g | scant 2oz grated Grana Padano or Parmesan cheese plus 1 tbsp for topping
- 50 g | scant 2oz finely grated strong cheddar cheese or feta cheese crumbled
- 2 large eggs lightly beaten
- large pinch freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp dried thyme
- Heat the olive oil in a lage pot over medium-low heat and cook the onion and garlic for 5 minutes.
- Add the lamb or beef mince and brown for 5 minutes, breaking it up with a wooden spoon.
- Stir in the spices, herbs, cinnamon stick and bay leaf.
- Add the chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, wine and vinegar. Season generously with salt and pepper.
- Bring to a simmer and cook for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thickened. Remove the cinnamon stick and bay leaf.
- Cook the pasta until it is al dente – cooked but with a bit of a bite. Rinse, drain and mix with the meat sauce.
- Pack into a large ovenproof dish.
- Make the cheese sauce. Melt the butter in a pan and whisk in the flour and mustard powder. Cook over low heat for two minutes.
- Gradually add the milk and whisk it in.
- Add the cheeses and whisk to combine until melted.
- Remove from the heat and gradually whisk in the beaten eggs and nutmeg.
- Pour the cheese sauce over the pasta and place the dish on a large baking tray.
- Bake for 30 minutes then sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of grated cheese and the dried thyme. Bake for another 10 minutes until the cheese layer is set.
- Cool for 10 minutes and serve with a green salad or steamed vegetables.